Are Teacher Evaluations Measuring Up?

Every teacher wants to be highly effective in classroom. Spending hours researching best practices, planning lessons and setting up their classrooms. After just a few formal observations, teachers are handed their “report card” at the end of the year from their administrator in the form of an evaluation. Teachers receive daily feedback about their teaching from students and parents but often receive little to none from their administrators until the final evaluation meeting at the end of the year.  Educators can feel surprised by their evaluations if the results don’t match the feedback they received.

For evaluation systems to be accurate, they need to be administered with fidelity throughout our educational system. Using different tools and procedures creates a feeling of distrust in today’s schools, especially since teacher job placement is not based upon teaching evaluations. Deborah Ball and The Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness have attempted to address these issues; Sadly the Michigan Legislature failed to approve and fund their plan.

A recent addition to the teacher evaluation is student growth data from standardized tests thanks to the Race To The Top initiative by the federal government. This creates an entire new set of concerns about evaluations. Do all students grow the same? Is learning growth linear? NO, but these are the assumptions made when using student growth data in teacher evaluations. Many times teachers are evaluated in content that they don’t even teach. Using student growth for teacher evaluations focuses on linear academic growth, it does not take into account where students start and what is occurring in a student’s life. Students that are all ready ahead of grade level will have a harder time growing since the learning targets for the grade level have been mastered. This means teachers of advanced placement or gifted students will have the largest struggle showing growth. What we really need to remember is that learning is NOT linear.

Of course teachers desire learning to happen in their classroom: many struggle with how to measure it. Why? Because learning has so many variable that are beyond the teacher’s control.

Teachers deserve an evaluation that is equitable to ALL. Let’s work on making one!

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Student data and teaching ….

You hear it all the time, in all the media “Student data shows need for better teaching.” It is the mantra of many educational reformers today. I have struggled with this argument for years. When I talk to friends outside of the education field they buy into this argument. If students don’t perform well on a test then it is “the teachers fault”. Seems logical from a business perspective. When a business makes a product, they desire them all to come off the assembly line the same. If a sales man isn’t making sales or a company isn’t selling its product, then the person or company is at “fault”.

 

Problem is education is not a business. Students are not products but individual people with a variety of individual needs. Does our society want all of our students exiting schools to be the same? It seems that way right now with the testing culture that exists in our schools today. Maybe we need to take a step back and look at schools in a different light.

Instead of: 

Student data is to teaching as product sales are to company’s success

The analogy should be 

Student data is to teaching as crops growth are to farmers.

 Farmers grow crops similarly to how teachers help grow youths minds. Farmers look at the climate of the region pick best methods and choose crops. Similarly teachers see the environment students come from and pick lessons accordingly. The best farmer can loose a crop when unexpected events occur. Droughts, insect infestations, and floods are all possible outside influences that can cause a crop to be lost. The best teachers can not show students growth gains when outside events effect their classrooms. Deaths, loss of jobs and other social ills can effect student performance despite the quality of teaching. Farmers can help adjust environmental factors that affect their crops by watering dry fields, applying pesticides and building dykes. Schools systems try to adjust the environments for their students with counseling options but it is often hard to control these factors. 

Even this analogy has a weakness, farmers get to pick their crops for the environment. Teachers have no choice. They have to teach every student that walks into their classroom. Teachers give their “A ” game everyday to create an atmosphere for success and culture of learning.  

Society needs to be careful when using “learning” data to measure the teaching that is going on in the classrooms.  Incredible teachers are leaving the classrooms due the recent trend in using this data poorly. It is time for it to change. 

Feeling like a failure…is it valid?

My district uses NWEA MAP scores to measure student growth. Our students take the test in the fall, are give a target to reach when they take the spring test. We have been using the Math and Reading tests for the past 3 years and this year we added the general science test. This week my classes took thescience test. We missed the growth target! One of my student growth data points will not be rated as effective. For me to have gotten effective 60% or more of my students needed to hit their growth target as projected by NWEA. We missed. I feel I have failed my class.

Or at least I did until:

A student took the 45 question test in 10 minutes and saw their test score jump 13 points!! Wait, What? I can’t read 45 questions in 10 minutes, That is answering a question about every 13 seconds is that possible with any accuracy? Yes, I know this student met their target, but it makes me question the validity of the test for every student. If someone can score higher by chance, can’t they also score lower? Should their be a way to make sure students actually read the test? Or is that one me monitoring 30+ students? (In fact this student tested 1 on 1 with another teacher because they we absent when the test was given) The fact is this student growth is reflected in MY teacher evaluation, it leaves me with a few questions.

 

1. Where do the growth targets come from? Not all students grow at the same rate so how in the world can NWEA project these targets? I have been told that they are calculated as the average growth for everyone that scores the same RIT score. IF so then 50% of ALL students will fall above and 50% will fall below as a law of averages.

2. What standards is the NWEA test based upon? I assume common core for ELA and Math, is it Next Gen for science? Surely not the Michigan 7th grade science standards that I am required to teach.

3. If students are above grade level, is it expected for them to grow? Teachers teach a grade level content standard, how can students grow in areas that are not taught as defined by curriculum? I know teachers need to offer enrichment opportunities in class but the dig deeper into curriculum not into high level curriculum that the NWEA test measures.

4. Do multiple choice test really measure knowledge? I often call them multiple guess tests. Most of my student love multiple choice because they can take a guess. They hate fill in the blank and short answer questions because that requires them to have the knowledge. I find it funny that a student who takes 30 minutes to try and unsuccessful complete a short answer test is done in 30 seconds with a similar multiple choice one! The new assessment for the common core are placing an emphasis on more open ended questions so why not NWEA?

5. Do these test scores correlate to content mastery? Is there evidence that doing will on MAP tests means students DO know the content knowledge?

I know these are changing times. Teachers are responsible for making sure our students grow. I KNOW every single student in my class grew in many different ways this year. I have their classwork to prove it. I hope the laws will be fixed so teachers like me don’t feel like FAILURES.

I will continue to strive to be the best teacher I can. I don’t want to resort to teaching to the NWEA (or any test) just to keep my job, I personally feel that would be educational malpractice.